Why longer shafts aren't the key to longer driving

Extra length doesn't guarantee consistent distance, says club-maker John Whitehead


Posted: 13 November 2011
by John Whitehead

Lee Westwood tees off
Jason Day holds a pose

IT wasn’t long ago that the average length of a driver was no more than 43.5 inches. But times have changed and when next you look over the clubs in your local pro shop or golf superstore, pay attention to the length of the drivers of your favourite brands.

You’ll find them built to a length of 45 to 45.5 inches which now seems to be the standard length of modern off-the-shelf drivers, regardless of brand. You’d be forgiven for believing that this is not only normal but quite usable for the average golfer. But everything in life - and golf - is not always as it seems.

So what’s the reason for this increase in driver length? It’s certainly not that the average golfer has become taller and more athletic in the last 20 years!

There are two reasons. The first is technical because when graphite became the preferred shaft for drivers, its lightness caused problems on the production lines. It dramatically altered the feel of a 43.5-inch driver, reducing the swing-weight by some nine to 12 points making a men's driver feel more like a woman's.

There where three ways to resolve problem:

1) Return to fitting heavier steel shafts

2) Re-work driver heads by adding weight

3) Leave two inches extra on the shaft

The other reason (apart from technical) is the quest for distance by the club golfer. But first I should mention that US PGA Tour statistics reveal that the average length of a Tour player's driver is 44.5 inches - at least a half to one inch shorter than the average golfer uses to try to hit those elusive fairways on his local course.

So ask yourself: If the best players in the world with their superb swings, ball-striking abilities and healthy desire for distance, are ignoring the longer-shafted drivers sold to the general public, why are club golfers buying them?

In my opinion, it’s all about sales. The competition between club manufacturers for your cash is brutal - and the promise of distance sells golf clubs.

But the promise is based on the rare occasions you manage to hit your longer-shafted driver in the middle of its sweetest spot, while delivering a square club face at your optimum swing speed and tempo.

Do that, and you're going to hit the ball out of sight. But as any pro will tell you, golf is not about rarity, it’s about consistency.

And consistency doesn't have to boring. Golf is about HOW MANY, not HOW FAR and I’ve fitted hundreds of golfers who consequently play better and hit the ball longer, straighter and with greater consistency with a driver built to their optimum length.

Getting the shaft length right for you, is one of the most important and basic factors in club fitting - together with the right grip. If your driver is too long for your golfing ability, it will mean more off-centre hits, resulting in off-line shots and a massive loss in distance - at least a five per-cent loss in distance on tee shot with a driver for every half inch off centre.

So if you're capable of carrying your drives 220 yards, you could be down to 209 yards with a longer shaft. Should you miss-hit by a one inch on that big 460cc driver head, you’ll maybe have a 200-yard drive that could have been 220 yards.

Finally, some words of warnin. Before you clamp your £250 graphite driver into a vice and chop an inch or two off the shaft, you should know that when you shorten any golf club you will reduce its swing weight and change the overall feel of the club. Sorry to dampen your DIY urges, but it’s a job for an experienced club-maker or a skilled pro, they will find the optimum club length for you and build in the necessary compensations into your clubs.

So, just as you would go to a qualified professional coach if you want to improve your technique, seek out an experienced club-fitter if you want to get the most from your equipment.

What's the length of the shaft in your driver? Have you checked it lately? Might you hit it more consistently if it was shorter and more manageable? Give us your feedback on the forum. John Whitehead, took up golf when he was eight and became a professional when he was 16. He is one the country's most experienced club-makers, based at The Golfers Den, Old Dairy Farm, Upper Stowe, Northants www.strikerightgolf.co.uk.

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Discuss this story

What's the length of the shaft in your driver? Have you checked it lately? Might you hit it more consistently if it was shorter and more manageable? Give us your feedback.

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 10:54

Under careful testing ist not proven at all that longer shafts increase distance unless you are a very good player.The longer shafts are as a result of lighter heads I think because they need to balance the swingweight,but truth is shorter shafts promote accurate sweetpsot hits for most players,so shorter drivers are longer for the vast majority of players.I believe many pros have theirs specced down and Tiger started his career and even won a mojor using a 43 1/2 driver.Mine is 45.

I doubt many players have the time and inclination to find a clubfitter who can cut it down properly,ie balancing swingwieight, and tipping the shaft correctly.Plus of course the lie angle is down changed,so really it should be done at the time of purchase.I am lucky and use pretty standard lie and lengths.

Most probably just ask a jnr in the shop to butcher the butt and then wonder why suddenly the club feels different.

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 11:07

I did go to a clubmaker (coincidentally it was John Whitehead) for my driver and he made the club with a 43 inch shaft. The extra control that this has given has changed my driving from being the weakest aspect of my game to one of the stronger points.

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 12:40

I build my own and am currently using a 44.25" length driver.

I'm considering builidng another at 43.5" just as an experiment.

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 12:46

This got talked about before. General advice was get the longest shaft you can consistently control and hit near the sweetspot, irrespective of your height. That might mean a shorter shaft for many due to 45-46" now becoming standard. Custom fitting would be best, but you could just get some impact tape and try gripping down the club at the range. Although it will make the grip smaller.

This issue was in an article in Golf Digest that highlighted it this year, although supposedly Tom Wishon in his 'Search for the Perfect Golf Club' book has been advocating it for years. Listen to Chp2 of 12 Myths That Could Wreck Your Golf Game.

I have read elsewhere by some club fitters that for each inch of shaft you can potentially gain around 8yds. But every 1/4 inch off centre you can lose 6.67yds (Tom Wishon suggests 5yds). Which can be a lot, 3/4" = 15-20yds. So ironically, some claim not only better accuracy but little to no distance loss. Sometimes even a little distance gained, thanks to hitting more solid shots near the sweetspot.

Not sure how that translates to new drivers with high MOI and variable face thickness that are designed to increase ball speed/distance with off-centre hits. But some tests have suggested only gaining 1.7-2.0mph from 4000 MOI (previous 460cc drivers) to 5000-5300 MOI. Some suggest 1.5mph gives about 3yds.

Supposedly one of the best ways to correct the swingweight is using hotmelt inside the clubhead. Using hosel or shaft tip weights supposedly alters the CG location of the head and could change it's playing characteristics, like make it draw biased or lower flight.

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 13:51

I pretty much always chop some off the butt end of my drivers, very unscientific I realise but I aint a great believer in swingweight being important, overall club weight is what I find makes the most difference. Yep, I butcher my own clubs WB!!  Mostly I cut 1 to 1.5 inches off, but had success with an old Titleist 975J that I cut 3.5 inches off. For me anyway, the shorter shaft doesn't seem to lose any distance, lowers the ball flight a tad, and is just more controllable, and the lighter the club the better as far as I am concerned.

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 14:35

SWingweight is a measure of feel,some can feel it,some can't

The two extremes are holding the club wiuth the grip and swinging it,and then holding the other way round with the head,these are the both extremes of this particular clubs swingwieght.Obviously gripping the club via the head will feel silly light and whippy,totally different to swinging it the proper way round,yet you haven't changed the club,just turned it upside down.

As i said,its more important to others than some.

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 15:08

It depends what each individuals preference for balance weight is - some may prefer a lighter feel, some a heavier feel. It also depends on the particular swing action that the player has.

Exactly the same as tennis players - Jimmy Connors swing-weighted his raquets to give himself maximum power in his heavy shot game but I doubt if any club player could have used them without getting a hernia. 

It's all to do with preference and effectiveness and the only value of swingweight is to ensure that all clubs in a players set are matched to that requirement.

 

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 15:28

Correct,its what True Length technology uses,moi matched sets  (moi matching being another word for swingweigth in this case).A heavy load and early release needs a different shaft to the opposite,and so on.Wishons site explains this very well

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 16:07

Just had 1.5" taken off the driver shaft, professionally done mind. It's a different animal, much higher percentage of fairways hit and no discernable loss of disdance.

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 20:46

 just bought a ladies driver just as an experiment you understand , ahem, its almost as long as my TM R5 but straighter, it cost me a fortune £4.48 .

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 21:37

95% of golfers cant hit the ball worth a damn, swingweight is the least of their probs. If every amateur golf cut 2 inches off the butt end of their driver they would get better results. Its not an exercise in scientific method, its just a stick and a ball game, and if the stick is uncontrollable then no matter how loud the claims on distance by the manufacturers the plain truth is the average golfers cannot hit a 45" or longer driver with any degree of consistency.

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 22:19

Yeah,probably,but I bet even Darren Duffer could tell if his K1 went from regular to extra stiff after he hacked 2 inches off.Thats not science,its a ball going in the trees straight right,but I think on balance you are probably right.I certainly agree the longer the shaft the higher the dispersion rate,but I slightly disagree on flex,its more important that you state,flex will alter considerably.

Many people shorten drivers and don't see the benefit and don't know why,this is because the swingweight has dropped off the scale.The head should be pulled and weight added internally,this ensures the swingweight remains constant,plus the shaft can be trimmed accordingly.Just lopping off 2 inches dramtically changes the way the shaft was designed to play,modern graphite shafts do have some r+d investment!

Posted: 13/11/2007 at 22:25

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WB, you say yourself swingweight is a personal issue and then you say you have to swingweight a shortened driver back again! these two statements contradict each other. I totally agree that swingweight is a personal issue and every time a shorten a club I always ask the person how does the club feel - I don't ask do you want me to swingweight it back to it's original weight. The over whelming response is that the feel is good and do not change it.

As far as taking the head off etc no that is not the way to go. If you want to shorten a driver (or any club) cut it at the but end. Yes, it will change a the frequency as measured in a frequency analyser but not the playing frequency. Think of a set of irons as the shaft get shorter the frequency goes up, but they still have the “same” playing frequency. To change the playing frequency, yes you do trim from the tip. Trimming from the but does not "dramatically" change the shaft. If you do what you suggest by shorten and then re-swingweighting it back up, you are adding more weight to the tip and hence making the shaft softer, which will alter the playing characteristics. This is explained on the Royal Precision web site.

The two most immediate and beneficial alterations I do to people clubs is to shorten (and/or reshaft ) Drivers and to shorten putters. For the vast majority of golfers they are both too long and both should be shortened.

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Posted: 14/11/2007 at 00:27

^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^^ some sense

Thanks DD

Wormburner cannot seem to get to grips with the fact that shortening the driver from the butt end has no marked change in the playability of a club - other than the fact that it will seem slightly lighter in feel and possibly easier to use. This may suit some golfers, as a typical swingweight of D0 may seem too heavy. 

A golfers K1 (as he puts it) will not go from regular to extra stiff by trimming the butt.

You cannot butcher a driver by cutting 1" off the butt

...and the effective difference in feel (aka swingweight)  is the same as gripping down an inch.

We have had somewhat of a discussion on this in the Driver advice wanted? Too much choice!!! thread.

 

Posted: 14/11/2007 at 07:19

Look,i cn only give you 27 yars of prsonal expoereince,I cannot and will not try or bother to change your opinions..Whta I have posted is simply known facts on what hapepns when you cut down drivers,not magical tricks I have learned in the far east,or anywhere else.Flex and swingweight are efefcted when you cut a driver down,and yes,differring swingweights can and will feel the same at differing lengths.It is simply incorrect to say the easiest and correct way to cutt down a driver at the butt without doing anything to check and ensure the flex and swingweight measure the same.But look its a arguement about nothing.I would never in  amillion tears cut my driver down without having these things done,the head weight and thus swingweight corrected,ensuring the pro knows how to tip trim correctly and also ensuring the flex has maintained the original cpm.Its entirley upto you what you do with your own clubs or what clubs come into the shop.I have not and will not dispute personal choice.But Taz is on some sort of mission to prove my opinions as hokum,smoke and mirrors,and whatever else he wants to ad.Imo you will severely effect the way a modern shaft was designed to play by butt trimming a shfat by inch,the fcat many players cannot see a difference is entirley because it wasn't done properly,and not because they are not good enough,due to 'playability' as you state.Ask Exmax if he will cut a driver down on request when someone comes into his shop without first explaining the simple mechanics of what MIGHT happen if he does so.Its a personal choice,but this personal crusuade by Taz to prove I am aintrenet nomark guessing my way through techncial questions is tireseome.Feel free to d what the hel you like to your gear,but DDyou state clearly exactly what I posted,yes its BETTER to tip trim and YES the frequency is altered when you butt trim! his is a very simple cncept I posted right from the start,yet you then continue to explain something I already posted,that adding weight back to the tip to balance the club softens the flez.I have posted this several times.My whole poin tis that these factors ARE effected and need careful work for the golfer to have a chnace of seeing the full benefit of cutting gear down.I suspect you,like Taz,have just eard the last post and not the whole picture,so this is just becoming silly.You ahve posted exactly what I have,over 2 threads now so you clearly ahve not read what I have said in either,and Taz continues to be deliberately and selelectively deaf.

Flex IS affected,we AGREE

Swingweight IS affected,we also AGREE

Tip trimming IS preferable,we AGREE

Adding weight will soften the flex,hopefully back to its original cpm,WE AGREE, (I have a chart somehwere from Wishon of how many cpms per gramme,and have much flex points per gramme)  and Taz,please don't tell me Tom Wishons guesses anything,buy his book and learn something

We also agree that most players may not feel a thing and may or may not gain an advantage,the shorter shaft may out weight and change in characteristics and so they may be happy,or they may not,caveat emptor.

Posted: 14/11/2007 at 07:52

cont

I am sure some pros do not own a swingweight scale and nor do they own a lie adjuster,they also don't bother to contact a manaufacturer for tip trimming specs,nor do they bother asking or bothering to ask what the player is struggling with,what is happeing to the flight and what they are trying to correct,nor do they bother asking what their swing speed is,and/or what ball they are using.They may just lop an inch off and hope for the best,and it might work,it might not.But I know one guy in here,a guy in the tade,who has so far not posted,that when I went to him recently and offered to buy a driver,he spent an hour discussing what I was having problems with,and he sent me away to change my ball FIRST,to see what happened to the spin rate.I went back and we discussed lengths and what came into play was lie angles,AS WELL as swingweights,again,he sent me away with a test club to check the lie angle was incorrect and the club was ok,swingweight wise.This could have gone on until we found the right club,as it happens I bought the test club. 

taz,I posted 2 replies and you couldn't be bothered to answer either,you just sat back and waited for the troops to arrive.As it happens,DD agreed with me,he just hasn't read all my posts over the two threads.If you wanna have your driver cut by an inch,absolutely no problem,I will stick with advice from a guy who discussed,flight,face angle,ball,loft,flex,shaft length and lie AND swingwwight before he sold me anything,you do what the hell you like,its a free country.The casual reader of these thread who by nwo is probably pissing himself  laughing will either follow your advice and do likewise,just have the driver cut,or stop and ask a few questions first,from a decent pro who will work things out.Wishon doesn't lop an inch off,he will balance the club properly and ensure whats left in the players hands will work for him.Thats a simple piece of advice,take it or leave it.Now as you have stopped answering my posts,only choosing to post on the back of others,I think I had better leave it here and let others have their say so the thread stays normal for others to read.,terah.

ps I won't tell you who I saw,he hasn't given me permission to speak on his behalf,he can speak for himself if he wishes to do so

Posted: 14/11/2007 at 07:58

WB states "Adding weight will soften the flex,hopefully back to its original cpm"

Wormy why would you want to do that, as a shaft gets shorter it's cpm should change throughout the set to enable it to stay "matched" surely or you have a softer shaft.

Posted: 14/11/2007 at 09:13

I was reffering to graphite shafts in drivers,adding weight to heads in irons has little effect on flex,if anything at all I believe.Yes the cpm will change equally with all clubs if they were matched to start with,afaik.

Posted: 14/11/2007 at 09:19

 I'm not on a mission to dispute what you say Wormburner but I think it only fair to give accurate info to other golfers.

The question of shortening a driver by removing the grip and cutting off an inch and replacing the grip was met with considerable and unsubstantiated derision from you, which may prevent guys doing one thing that could help improve their driver.

You continue to bombard the thread with opinion without reading replies. You apparently have not read Davids.

 Flex IS affected,we AGREE - Nope

Swingweight IS affected,we also AGREE - Yep, but it may be preferable.

Tip trimming IS preferable,we AGREE - Nope

Posted: 14/11/2007 at 09:46

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